News Canada

Mike Duffy given $90G by PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to pay back housing expenses

QMI Agency

OTTAWA - 

The Senate housing allowance scandal intensified Wednesday after the Prime Minister's Office confirmed Stephen Harper's right-hand man gifted $90,000 to Sen. Mike Duffy to pay back inappropriate expense claims.

While there is nothing illegal about Nigel Wright's largesse, Duffy is obligated under Senate ethics guidelines to disclose gifts valued at more than $500.

The former television host wouldn't comment Wednesday.

"I can't talk and I'm not talking," he said when reached by phone.

The NDP immediately called for an outside investigation of the housing allowance scandal and Wright and Duffy's deal.

"Are we to believe that Nigel Wright is Santa Claus to ethically challenged Conservatives," MP Charlie Angus asked about Harper's chief of staff.

"There are too many questions here to allow this to be swept under the carpet, so we need some kind of outside investigator," he said.

Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said returning the housing allowance was the right thing to do.

"However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment. Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount."

Duffy is one of three senators fending allegations they wrongfully billed up to $22,000 a year in housing allowances.

Senators are permitted to bill for housing if their primary residence is 100 km away from Parliament Hill.

Duffy is the only one to return the money.

Sen. Mac Harb, a former Liberal who sits as an independent, and Sen. Patrick Brazeau, a former Tory who also sits as an independent, say they won't return $51,000 and $48,000 respectively and will fight a Senate committee's order to return the money.

"Mr. Duffy has reimbursed taxpayers for his impugned claims," MacDougall said. "Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau should pay taxpayers back immediately."

The RCMP is looking at audits that were made public last week to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

Democracy Watch says Duffy and Wright should both be investigated for ethics violations and it plans to file complaints with the Senate and House of Commons ethics watchdogs.

The Senate is awaiting a fourth audit into hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses claimed by Sen. Pamela Wallin of Saskatchewan.

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